Is Tripura aiding the Hinduisation of tribals by letting ISKCON run state schools?

24 September 2019
Entrusting the running of government schools to a religious organisation violates the educational and cultural rights of tribal communities.
Sandeep Rasal/SOPA Images/LightRocket /Getty Images
Entrusting the running of government schools to a religious organisation violates the educational and cultural rights of tribal communities.
Sandeep Rasal/SOPA Images/LightRocket /Getty Images

“From the Far East. Stories from the Woods. The Journey Within,” read the opening text of a slickly produced promotional video on the website of the India Tribal Care Trust. The ITCT is an arm of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON, a Hindu religious organisation that promotes the worship of Krishna. The ITCT describes itself as an “initiative of ISKCON to care for the tribal people in India.”

“Our village was in a pathetic condition,” a member of the tribal community from the Chota Jameera region on the Assam-Mizoram border, said in the video. “We thought there are many gods and used to worship spirits as well…The rituals were done for personal gains and to fulfil selfish desires. Alcohol and different animal sacrifices were used as offerings.”

The frame then cut to a family—a man, a woman and two children sitting in their bamboo hut. “We lived like animals,” the man said. “Earlier we used to kill pigs to sell their meat and we also made alcohol to make a living,” the woman added. The tribal people were then shown chanting Vedic mantras, singing Hindu religious hymns, and talking about their discovery of bliss. They said they had stopped killing pigs and making alcohol since ISKCON came into their lives. “I am a soul,” the first narrator said, who was now shown sporting a sandalwood tilak from his forehead to his nose. He said that he had discovered his purpose in life after associating with ISKCON. He added that he now treks to other remote villages, spreading “Krishna consciousness” among his fellow community members.

According to its website, the ITCT aims to provide “educational care, social care, health care, spiritual care, and emotional care,” to tribal communities, as part of its care initiative. This month, the organisation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tripura government to run 20 public schools located in remote and tribal areas of the state. In a press conference in June, the Tripura education minister Ratan Lal Nath said that the Tripura council of ministers had “decided to hand over” 20 schools to ISKCON, “who agreed to provide quality education in those schools.” These include 13 closed schools which had no students and seven low enrolment schools which had no more than ten students.

Nileena MS is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. 

Keywords: Scheduled Tribes Tripura schools
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